Westfield, NJ ‘The Watcher’ on Netflix: What’s true, what’s fiction
Among mega-producer Ryan Murphy’s newest projects is one “inspired by the true story of the infamous 'Watcher’ house in New Jersey.”
Naomi Watts and Union City native Bobby Cannavale lead a cast that includes Terry Kinney, Michael Nouri, Mia Farrow, Jennifer Coolidge, Richard Kind and Margot Martindale.
“Ominous letters from someone calling themself ‘The Watcher’ are just the beginning as the neighborhood’s sinister secrets come spilling out,” according to the tease under the Netflix trailer.
The limited series hits Netflix on Oct. 13. Read on for more on what details are real and what’s creative license by thrill masters, Murphy and Ian Brennan.
Did the family ever live in the Watcher house?
Possibly the biggest fiction is that the family never actually lived in the home themselves — chalking it up to the creepy letters that mentioned their three children as “young blood,” among other disturbing phrases.
Is the house real — where did they film 'The Watcher'?
The address is the same on-screen and off — 657 Boulevard, Westfield, N.J. — save the ZIP code. (Real-life Westfield is 07090. The series has it on the envelopes as 11537, which is Hempstead, New York.)
In the series, the house is said to be built in 1921. The 4-bedroom, 5-bath home has an in-ground pool, a semi-finished basement and semi-finished attic, as faux real estate agent Coolidge gives a Netflix video tour — with a fictional asking price was $3.2 million.
The real “Watcher” house is even older — built in 1905. The 6-bedroom, 4-bathroom Dutch Colonial has a basement and multiple fireplaces. When Derek and Maria Broaddus bought it in 2014, it was at a price of nearly $1.4 million.
As for the home actually used in the Netflix series — it's a stunning house in Rye, New York, on 1.25 acres of property instead of the nearly half-acre parcel in Westfield.
The Westchester County home that provides the backdrop for the thriller series is considerably larger — over 10,000 square feet, as built in 2016.
What details in “The Watcher” really happened?
The Broaddus family moved in property and furniture within the next couple of months after the closing — but have said the letters they received from “The Watcher” scared them from ever living there.
Derek and Maria Broaddus — whose three children were young at the time — received their first letter three days after the closing, according to the New York Magazine article, “The Watcher,” by Reeves Wiedeman, first published in 2018.
The writer claimed to have been “watching” the house for two decades and that the Woods sold it because "it was their time to move on and kindly sold it when I asked them to," according to a lawsuit filed in June 2015.
The next letter arrived two weeks later — this time addressed to “Mr and Mrs. Braddus” — and contained details about their kids, including birth order and nicknames, as Wiedeman reported.
A third letter arrived several weeks later.
Derek Broaddus set up webcams inside 657 Boulevard and eventually a new alarm system was installed, in an attempt to allay their anxiety, as cited in the same New York Magazine story.
Each letter was delivered by the U.S. Postal Service, according to Broaddus on Twitter in 2020.
Real-life theories and suspects in 'The Watcher' case
The Broaddus family initially suspected that “The Watcher” might be someone upset over losing out on the house, as the sellers had received multiple offers above their asking price.
There have been theories spread that the Broaddus family was behind the letters themselves.
Horace Corbin, a longtime publisher of The Westfield Leader and local historian, helped that theory run wild in speaking to The Gothamist in 2015, as he questioned past mortgages held by the Broaddus family.
In 2019, Derek Broaddus slammed such rumors, tweeting “Hey Horace how’s the hoax theory you started about my family holding up? I’m still waiting for my apology. #gutless”
Corbin retired from The Leader in 2020.
In trying to make sense of their turmoil, Derek and Maria Broaddus have said they kept vetting their neighbors for suspicious behavior.
“The couple behind 657 Boulevard kept a pair of lawn chairs strangely close to the Broadduses’ property,” according to the New York Magazine article, which appears to have been inspiration for the Kind and Martingale characters in the Netflix series.
Where are 'The Watcher' family members they now?
The Broaddus family has moved on from the house on Boulevard — which sold at a loss in 2019.
According to New York Magazine, around 2016, they borrowed money to buy a second home in Westfield, “using an LLC to keep the location private.”
Their civil lawsuit against the previous owners, the Woods, was dismissed in 2017.
The Boulevard house has new owners and seemingly no new letters from “The Watcher” — none made public, anyway.
What is up with this "John Graff" character?
The building inspector in "The Watcher" series is actually inspired by a different, notorious moment in Westfield's history, decades earlier — the harrowing crimes of John List.
Real-life Timeline of 'The Watcher' activity in Westfield, NJ
— 2014 —
John and Andrea Woods lived at 657 Boulevard for 23 years, through the home’s sale in June 2014.
They were near its closing date when they received their only letter from “The Watcher” on May 26, 2014, according to court documents filed in the aftermath.
It was a typed, single-spaced letter that the Woods said did appear strange but did not make them feel unsafe or worried. The key detail was that it was signed by “The Watcher,” but the Woods said no detailed, personal information was mentioned in the letter.
Derek and Maria Broaddus received their first letter in June, three days after the closing.
The next letter arrived two weeks later — and a third letter arrived, several weeks after that.
The Broaddus family set up webcams and eventually a new alarm system.
— 2015 —
A year after the ill-fated purchase, Derek and Maria Broaddus filed their lawsuit against the previous owners in June 2015. They said John and Andrea Woods should have warned them of the single letter from "The Watcher."
The Broaddus family attempted to re-sell the house at 657 Boulevard "as they are unable to live in the home without extreme anxiety and fear for their children's safety and wellbeing," according to the same suit.
— 2016 —
The civil lawsuit proceeded through 2016 as the Broaddus family borrowed money to buy a new home in Westfield, privately listed under a limited liability corporation, according to New York Magazine.
— 2017 —
The lawsuit against the previous owners, the Woods, was dismissed October 2017.
Knowing they were not going to set foot in the house themselves, an effort to tear down the historic house at 657 Boulevard was also turned down.
The Westfield Township Planning Board considered and rejected a proposal to tear the home down and build two new homes on the lot. That prompted a separate lawsuit by Derek and Maria Broaddus — which also was dismissed.
The house at this point was being lived in by a tenant — who was around when a purported fourth letter from “The Watcher” was received.
— 2018 —
In 2018, Deadline reported that Netflix was closing on a “seven-figure” deal for the story — which included the rights of the Broaddus family as well as the New York Magazine story by Wiedeman.
The new owners were Andrew and Allison Carr, according to property records.
— 2021 —
Casting news for “The Watcher” begins to form — led by Cannavale and Watts.
— 2022 —
The limited series “The Watcher” debuts Oct. 13 on Netflix.
Erin Vogt is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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